Do you believe in the supernatural human soul? I believe that all people are supernatural beings, and so do you. In this article, I aim to convince you of that fact.
- (of a manifestation or event) attributed to some force beyond scientific understanding or the laws of nature– Oxford Dictionary
Anything that can’t be described by our understanding of nature can be labeled as supernatural. This definition is somewhat incomplete, though, in that it doesn’t make allowance for the limitation of human knowledge.
There are events that transpire every day that can’t be fully explained by our current understanding of the laws of nature, and yet we don’t consider them to be supernatural because we can conceive of natural laws to describe the behaviors. We just don’t currently understand the workings of those laws in detail. For something to be considered truly supernatural, it must be unquestionably beyond the scope of what can be described by the laws of nature.
Defining the soul
Dictionary definitions of the human soul are vague and convoluted, which is not surprising. The word “soul” can be used in many contexts, and the boundaries between them are blurry. Since I am unable to find a dictionary definition that exactly matches the concept I desire to address, I propose my own definition:
soul – The immaterial part of you that comprises the core of what you think of as “self”, consisting of your thoughts, your emotions, and your resolve.
Throughout this article, when I refer to the soul, consider the word a placeholder for the concept expressed in this sentence.
Building blocks of the soul
As a father, I think about this topic frequently. What makes a person who they are? Where do behavioral traits come from? Historically, the debate has been nature vs. nurture. Are our behaviors inherited from our ancestors, or are they influenced by our environment?
While this is certainly a fascinating topic, I think it is irrelevant to the topic at hand. Both our innate character and our experiences are ultimately encoded in the physical structure of our brain. Distilled to its basic essence, you could say that our soul is comprised of the network of neural connections in our brain, and the impulses that travel along those connections.
To put it another way, in theory every single thought or emotion that you have ever experienced can be traced to a neurochemical reaction in your brain.
There. Simple, right? There’s nothing supernatural about it. Your soul can be completely explained by the laws of nature.
There is a problem with this explanation, though. This model of the human soul is not very unlike a computer. You have your hardware, the raw cerebral material that you are born with, and the encoding of your experiences into that material is analogous to programming a computer.
If every behavior that you manifest can be explained by the physical makeup of your mind, then who is accountable for your actions? Is a computer accountable for its behavior? It just does what it is programmed to do, given the physical limitations of its hardware.
How is your mind any different? If you break a law, why should you be held accountable? You can’t go against what your brain is telling you to do, and your brain is simply a conglomerate of the neural connections you were born with, modified by the experiences that you have gone through.
And yet we all believe that each individual is ultimately accountable for their actions, don’t we? If someone were to walk up to you and punch you in the face, would you bemoan the combination of hardware and software that ultimately led to that inevitable injurious event? You might, on a good day, sympathize slightly with your assailant if you knew that they had a rough childhood, but I’m sure that you would consider the person to be responsible for attacking you.
I am not an automaton
I am more than a computer. My soul, the part of me that I think of as “me”, exists beyond the tangle of impulses and neurons in my head. I can rise above my nature and my history. There is something within me that is able to override my programming, to surpass the limitations of my hardware.
I must believe this, because if I don’t then I give in to fatalism. Such thinking leads to a life without accountability, without accomplishment, and without hope. I refuse to live a life bereft of hope. It is the supernatural within me that provides that hope.
6 thoughts on “Supernatural me: The search for a soul”
I’m surprised you cite the the existence of societal disapproval of actions as evidence for free will.Read more …
I don’t cite societal disapproval as evidence for free will. I cite it as evidence that society believes in free will. They are not exactly the same thing.Read more …
“In order for society to meaningfully disapprove of an action, society must believe that the action was avoidable.”
I don’t agree, and I don’t believe you’ve supported this claim.Read more …
I agree that it is logical to provide corrective actions in the absence of free will. I don’t agree that it is logical to disapprove of an action in the absence of free will. Disapproval is only logical if you believe in free will.Read more …
Yes, my view on predetermination seems to be idiosyncratic and I’ve had trouble explaining it before.Read more …